Upon learning of the tragic passing of The Band's Levon Helm back in April of 2012, a collective of Indianapolis musicians began brainstorming a way that they could honor the legendary drummer, eventually deciding to re-create his group's iconic Last Waltz performance on stage. After coming to this conclusion, event producer Matt Mays reached out to the Helm estate, receiving a "somewhat official blessing" in return from its executive director.
"Basically, her response was that one of his last things, when he was sick and kind of realized he wasn't going to make it, was that he just wanted everybody to keep going," Mays recalls. "So I guess to be able to be a part of that and to play the songs and let people hear them in the way that we know how has been pretty cool."
- Courtesy Such A Night
Last year Such A Night played at the Vogue Theatre.
As musicians for the first tribute event (initially called The Ramble at Radio Radio) began responding favorably in unison, a collective decision to donate proceeds to a local charity was made. With his young son Leo (having Down syndrome) in mind, Mays remembers, "I'm the one who chimed in and said, 'Well, I've been looking to do something for Down Syndrome Indiana,' and everybody said, 'Done. That's perfect. Let's do that.'"
The result of that initial year was much more than a covers concert -- it was a communal celebration. Wade Parish, who has served as the honorary drummer at all of the Indy events to this point, reflects, "It was just a magical night. It sounds corny, but a lot of us came away from that saying, 'That's the best gig I've ever played.'"
In its third year, the emotionally charged tribute to The Band carries on, taking place this Saturday at Radio Radio. Now referred to as Such a Night, the nostalgic evening of '70s folk still unites several local music veterans to honor the memory of Helm and support Down Syndrome Indiana. In addition to the backing "Band," this year's performance will also include several inspired guest appearances, staying true to The Last Waltz concert presentation in the same way as past years. Some of 2014's colorful cameos will include Max Allen as Bob Dylan, Brian Deer as Eric Clapton, Stasia Demos as Emmylou Harris, Gary Wasson as Neil Young and much more.
Mina Keohane was given the honor of portraying Joni Mitchell in the initial Indy waltz, and will again fulfill the same role this year. Although the musician undoubtedly admits, "The Last Waltz is legendary," there are still several other layers to Mays' Such a Night production that she finds appealing as a performer.
"My favorite thing about this event is still the camaraderie and love that the musicians have for this music and for each other," Keohane says. "These are some of the best players I've had the privilege to share a stage with, and everyone's always got a great attitude and a sense of humor. It's also a bonus that the proceeds go to Down Syndrome Indiana."
- Courtesy Such A Night
Brian Deer will reprise the role of Eric Clapton in this year's performance.
Having held several other successful Such a Night celebrations in nearby cities, including Fort Wayne, Bloomington and Louisville, Mays acknowledges the underlying importance of The Band's timeless tunes, saying, "It's a testament to the music of The Band. I personally underestimated how much it resonates with people still to this day."
In teaming with topnotch talent for a local cause, he believes his event is much more than an average night of entertainment.
"It feels like we're taking care of our neighborhood, and then playing some really cool music by people who kind of believed in the same thing," he concludes.
For more information on this year's event, be sure and visit the Such a Night Facebook page.